Thursday, 13 February 2014

Conservative Values

"...I want you to understand that, in the Little World between the river and the mountains, many things can happen that cannot happen anywhere else. Here, the deep, eternal breathing of the river freshens the air, for both the living and the dead, and even the dogs, have souls."
Giovanni Guareschi

When my left wing friends aren't describing Conservatives as 'scum', 'vile' or 'vermin', they like to opine about a thing they call values. It's common currency among such folk that there was a time in the bucolic past when us Conservatives held to a set of 'values' that meant we were, while wrong, at least in some unspecified way 'decent'.

Now I'm not entirely sure what those values were - I could have a stab but I'd end up with a list that is essentially a definition of either 'Butskellism' or, worse, social democracy. The truth is that my left-wing friends believe their 'values' are the only righteous and moral values meaning that anyone holding to a different set of values must be wrong (if not actually evil then pretty close to the abyss).

I'm guessing that this (rather overused) word 'values' refers to a set of guiding principles, universal ideas about how we should act and about what is important. And what makes we smile is that, far more than socialism or liberalism, being a conservative is absolutely grounded in a set of values. Wherever you go in the world you'll find people who hold as important such things as family, neighbourliness, independence, duty and effort. That you should work hard, contribute, look out for the neighbours, bring up your family as honest, self-reliant and care for those less fortunate.

And these are conservative values, the building blocks of community. None of them are about government, large or small. None of them see society as greater than the sum of its individual parts. And none of them are predicated on knowing better what is good for your neighbour. I know that, compared to changing the economic system or destroying the capitalist state, this is all pretty boring but it's what most folk want.

At the heart of these values (and here I'm going to use the language of the left so they can understand) is the idea of coproduction, that value is created by individual exchange. Indeed the essence of conservative values is a belief that, left to their own devices, people will cooperate, collaborate and create community. That the consequence of freedom - in speech, in enterprise, in trade - is exchange, is cooperation. Free markets aren't about 'dog eat dog' but the very opposite of this: mutual benefit.

When conservatives go wrong it is to try an enforce these values and there is a fine line between enforcement, incentive and reward. But those left wing experts on conservatism, who have decided we have dumped our values by believing in free exchange, are so very wrong. But then such people never really understood in the first place.


1 comment:

asquith said...

The trouble is that conservative governments don't always believe in free exchange, but will intervene in the economy, in ways that benefit their constituents.

A most glaring example is the subsidy of unproductive land and the active discouragement of "rewilding" in upland areas... and that's assumed a new topicality because there is far too little talk of, and action towards, sustainable management of areas upstream. So that by the time it reaches Somerset it's too late.

And this is why I wouldn't view the Tories as an especially liberal party because they will always want to buttress the established order and their own brotherhood, even when it isn't beneficial to the rest of us.

TBF if someone offered what you're saying I probably wouldn't take it, but it isn't there today. The present order is arguably "conservative" but hasn't got much to do with communities or individual enterprises. Yet it is what the David Camerons and Owen Patersons of this world, in practice, seek.